Archive for the ‘General Contracting’ category

The Healthy Home at Downsview Park is Open to the Public

March 22nd, 2010

Healthy Home Kitchen view (photo courtesy of CMHC)

Downsview Park is a pretty cool place. It’s got a lot to do and some nifty things to see. Downsview is also a place that is actively being developed as an environmently friendly place to live and play. The home development that’s going in will be interesting to watch, but already there are reasons to come and poke around here. There’s the farmer’s and merchant’s market (open Saturdays and Sundays), GrandPrix Kartways which uses electric go-karts (so no direct emissions), the Canadian Air and Space Museum (I’ll bet you didn’t even know Toronto had an air and space museum) and The Hangar and Sports Complex. Our family’s been to the Hangar on several occasions — mostly for birthday parties (beach volleyball and soccer parties), but also for winter soccer practices. It’s a really neat space with lots of natural light and several massive (hangar-sized) playing fields. And if you’re wondering, yes, it really is a former hangar, once used by de Havilland Aircraft Company, and later by the Canadian Armed Forces.

Now, however, there’s another reason this area of Toronto is worth a visit. There’s a new “green home” exhibit that will be on display in the Hangar until the end of December, 2011. A Healthy Home is a great project and a definite ‘must-see’ for anyone interested in incorporating green building products and philosohpy into their renovation or new build. The designer, Barbara Nyke of Nikka Design, and builder, Chris Phillips of Greening Homes Contracting, have extensive experience using green building materials and have effectively demonstrated how “less can be more” through this project while creating a practical and beautiful living space.

If you’re a design junkie, or have done the rounds of design shows in Toronto in the last few years, you might well recognize this home. In its first few renditions it’s been known as “The Sustainable Condo” initially designed in 2004 by Busby, Perkins and Will Architects.  The point of this project was to show that small spaces had lots of potential to be multi-functional while incorporating “green” materials and efficiencies, and yet still look normal.

Healthy Home Kitchen and Living Room (photo courtesy of CMHC)

This current rendition goes a step farther  as it has now been fitted with walls and a ceiling so that insulation, drywall, and framing could be added,as well as a new HVAC system, some upgraded water efficiency options and more lighting options.

Why this house is considered “green”: It looks like any other compact condo maximizing space without compromising design. But there are many differences that aren’t visibly noticeable and most have to do with the materials used. Faucets, toilets, washer and dishwasher use less water, and furnishings and building materials don’t off-gas harmful chemicals. Finally lighting is LED and compact fluorescent, using less electricity.

This is a terrific example of how green doesn’t have to be weird or unaffordable. It’s a nice “normal” house with some wonderful and creative features. My favourite feature is the “welcome mat” which is made of 100% recycled tile and marble chips — which otherwise were bound for landfill.

I’ll dedicate several posts to highlight each of the features of this house and most importantly where you can buy the material — because it’s great to see green, but “doing” green is just as important.

Healthy Home Exterior (sponsors) (Photo courtesy of CMHC)

The Hangar: 1-35 Carl Hall Road, Downsview, ON. Open to the public: Monday to Friday 6-9pm, Saturday and Sunday, 12-3pm.

How To Talk to Your Contractor about Adding Green Materials to Your Renovation

January 16th, 2010

You’ve decided to bring more eco-friendly products into your renovation or design but you’re worried about talking to your contractor about your decision. If you’re new to the renovating or home-building game, don’t laugh — this is a more common problem than you might think.

Whenever you discuss using any new product outside a contractor’s comfort zone, be prepared for a “discussion.” The discussion could be as simple as a one-way conversation where he says “No.” There is the occasional contractor who’s willing to work with you when you ask for certain things, but generally you’re lucky if you’re able to convince him to use low VOC paint.

Here’s the thing: you and I look at it from an end-result point of view. We want to use materials that are safer for our kids to be around. We don’t want them to breathe toxic fumes from formaldehyde-laced particle board, or put their little barefeet on chemical laden carpets, or sleep in rooms painted with high VOC paints. But from the contractor’s perspective it’s a whole new can of worms involving a potentially huge learning curve and possibly a significant time investment, if not monetary investment too.

Let’s face it, time is money and somebody has to pay for something a contractor’s never tried before. For example, if you tell your contractor you want to use no added urea-formaldehyde plywood, you’re asking them to track it down, because not everyone carries this kind of plywood, so they either have to charge you for the hours they spend looking for it or they’ll decide to “eat the cost” or bury it in one of the other project charges. Further, contractors usually work with preferred  suppliers who give them a contractor’s discount for being a steady customer. Asking to use materials that their regular supplier doesn’t stock can mean that a new supplier likely won’t give them a contractor’s discount for a small one-off job as they don’t have a credit history. Further, they’ll probably have to pay for the material up front.

Another problem is familiarity with materials. New materials they’ve never used before could result in a slower installation time (reading instructions, making mistakes in installation, calling the manufacturer for direction), which again will cost someone more money.  And then there’s the liability if it isn’t installed properly. Finally, sometimes contractors are just not convinced that some products will do what they say and they want to protect you from throwing your money away. Part of their job is being your adviser and part of their job is making sure they finish on time so they can move onto the next project.

So, how do you resolve your desire for using green building materials with your contractor’s needs for finishing the job on time and keeping his costs in order?

1. If you’re new to the renovation game and you don’t have a contractor already lined up, find one that advertises “green.” That is, one who has already worked with a variety of green materials, has his suppliers ready to go, and is not afraid of the challenge. A good place to start is the Canada Green Building Council. The general contractors listed there are all LEED accredited, green building professionals. Unfortunately, the directory does not distinguish between residential and commercial builders so a little digging is required. Another good place to check is a local contractor’s website. Many contractors, like Tony’s Roofing Services LLC, include information about the kind of “green” options they provide on their website or blog.

2. If you already have a contractor with whom you’re comfortable — and personality fit is key to a successful renovation — before the project even begins ask him if he’s willing to use some green materials in this renovation. If he’s resistant then ask him what his concerns are. You can be prepared to assume the extra time and money cost involved, and you can help him out by locating and purchasing the materials for the job. Note though that many contractors are uncomfortable with you purchasing materials because if they over-estimate how much they need, they can just use the rest of the material on the next job. If they under-estimate and it’s their regular supplier, they usually can call them up and get more but not if you’re doing the ordering. You have to be flexible when trying to incorporate green building materials into your job and willing to be a little more active in the green building project.

3. If you want to incorporate something significant into your green build, like geo-thermal heating, and your contractor is trying to convince you otherwise, you can either stay firm and tell him you’re doing it and then work with him to schedule in the job, or you can use his HVAC company and see what energy efficient measures you can accomplish with them. When you work outside of his trades while he’s still on the job, be prepared to be on the job site to handle any problems. Also stay in constant communication with the contractor about when the best time to schedule the installation will be. The last thing you want to do is throw the rest of his schedule off.

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